Future of the Contact Centre: Gerry Brown Chair’s Report from Hall 2

The 2019 Future of the Contact Centre Conference, where I chaired Hall 2, provided a fascinating and absorbing insight into the changing world of the contact centre and the elements shaping its future. which was perhaps echoed by the sub-title of the conference Contact Centres at the Crossroads.  Many pundits have been predicting the demise of the contact centre for some time. But, as with Mark Twain, I believe that the reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

The plenary sessions kicked of with the always entertaining Nicola Millard from BT whose presentation, Chat, tap, talk; trends to transform your digital customer experience, really connected the bots. She showed us that while Chatbots have appeal, and “chat is where it’s at”, there needs to be ‘checks and balances’ from human agents and that phone is still popular and a key part of digital strategy.

This really set the stage for the balance of the day as we traversed the full spectrum of omni-channel and digital capabilities which was respectfully, intelligently and creatively blended with the role that humans play to show why people, customers and colleagues, still come play a major and important role in successful customer interactions.

The Contact Centre and The Customer Journey

Following the break, we left the starting grid in Hall 2 at full throttle with Mercedes Barbuti from Diabolocom, who demonstrated the importance of lowering the Customer Effort Score, hence improving customer retention, by leveraging all data available. Especially by agents really knowing their customers and how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can augment that knowledge to deliver a seamless customer experience. She shared customer examples and showed how with Diabolocom they could analyse flows, identify skills and improve routing for the benefit of both customers and colleagues.

Can we talk?
Next in line was Ido Bornstein-HaCohen from Conversocial who clearly showed that the company name aptly described the juxtaposition and importance of conversation within the world of social media. He evangelized the need for brands to develop meaningful relationships with their customers, at scale. And the disruptive opportunity to build real 1:1 relationship with consumers by tapping into the unique nature of messaging with human agents and self-service through adaptive automation. He left us in no doubt about how to deliver a conversational customer experience for friction-free interactions with consumers.

Happiness still counts

Scarlett Bayes from the Service Desk Institute introduced us to some compelling statistics on feedback and surveys that articulated how important it is to deliver happiness and a great customer experience, even if your customers are internal rather than external with some very telling statistics on the value of the overall metrics of CX over CSAT. She went on to say that while CSAT can provide some insight into the customer experience, but it may not show the full picture. She finished with a flourish by showing that customers are interested in the experience of the service more than Service Level targets being met and that excellent CX can lead to a community of customer advocates and promote customer centricity

The other Gerry Brown from IDC introduced us to some ‘Role models and Villains’ as a way of demonstrating how not to be customer centric, many of whom were the usual suspects. But bookended that smoothly by also introducing companies that did get it right including Metro Bank, Amazon and Salesforce. He divulged his three critical success factors for CX success, Kick start, Orchestrate and Innovate that focused on creating an ‘IT Intelligent Core’ that aligned with a future CX roadmap for digital investments that delivers both competitive differentiation and customer value through CX.

Metro Bank still creating FANS

David Craggs from MetroBank told us of the integrated service proposition offering the best of every channel, and had the audience applauding the fact that they continue to create FANs through their contact centres. He went on to say that while the customer shift towards digital and self- service banking continues to develop at pace; their customers still want them there to help them when needed. He concluded the morning session by saying that supporting these digital users is a major role for the Metro Bank Contact Centre, and analysis of usage patterns and root cause problems is a key driver of ongoing service improvements.

Chatbots, Webchat and Virtual Assistants

Llaura Hughes from Motability got us motoring into the afternoon session with her eloquent and down to earth presentation entitled, Customer Interaction Through Technology. She shared their journey taken to remove the day-to-day monotony within customer interactions by utilising emotional intelligence with the use of an up-to-date knowledge management base and an award-winning employee facing virtual agent. She told us of the changes that had taken place within their virtual assistant and the overall operation to make the process smoother, faster and less cumbersome for both customer and colleagues, and left us with this gem. ‘Confidence doesn’t come when you have all of the answers. But it comes when you’re ready to face all the questions’

Jon Meredith from IFS Customer Engagement continued the theme of bots and people playing nicely together. He noted that agents provide the empathy and listening skills plus the problem solving and creativity around additional services: essential for long term loyalty.  And agreed that as the number of bot and virtual agent deployments grow, so does the frustration and the number of failed deployments. However, he quickly showed us how IFS outline the four cornerstones of a successful implementation and uses real-work examples to illustrate how human agents can seamlessly combine with AI to ensure chatbots can really deliver CX and provide a staged approach to chatbot implementation.

Mark Billingham, from Shop Direct then took us on a journey from a dusty catalogue business to a fully functional, modern on-line retail giant. He showed that it was not only possible, but preferable for many customers that used mostly phone to contact them in the past, to shift relatively painlessly to a variety of digital channels. This resulted in Shop Direct improving their NPS score by 70 points, first contact resolution by 22% and overall contact by 30%.

The Voice of the Customer (VOC) and the Employee (VOE) is heard loud and clear

Chris Angus from 8×8 took us on a journey through the evolution of VOC and VOE in the contact centre and injected a strong dose of reality to the discussion when he said that it is becoming increasingly obvious that business is falling short when it comes to engaging both their customer and employee in the same environment. He identified that while there was a separation between VoE and VoC and combining the two for the VoCE is a trend that is taking over. He concluded that the employee is the true link to customer satisfaction how 8×8 can support business processes that can implemented to enhance both the customer and the employees experience within your organisation.

Richard Atkins, & Trish Roberts from Fidelity International performed a very creditable double act to introduce the three critical success factors within their VOC programme and the positive impact on client experience. These consist of the Health of the programme – having a robust view of the customer journey across different customer segments and countries, ensuring that their customers are able to provide a detailed view of their experience. Then their focus on the Communication and Engagement that is being fostered to celebrate best practice, getting those customer stories and winning the hearts and minds of their customers and colleagues. And lastly, and very importantly, the ‘Close the Loop’ programme, that was relaunched this year and designed to change the minds of their stakeholders through storytelling and the training module they set up to encourage best practice and create a common understanding and goal. This has had a profound effect on colleagues at all levels of the business that has contributed to the benefits in their continuous improvement programme that has been equally beneficial for customers.

Service Design in the Contact Centre

James Sandberg from Customer Devoted acknowledged that many business struggles to implement successful automation programs and his powerful presentation entitled Empowering contact centres with automation and action orientated dashboards, provided many valuable tips. James showed how contact centres can optimise NPS with the use of automation and how data driven dashboards can deliver actionable insights about what needs to be improved within the customer service experience. These included Customer process mapping, Tooling strategies, Conversation design and the clincher, Action orientated dashboards. The end result being dashboards that go beyond vanity metrics, better collaboration across channels that can surprise customers with unexpected rewards and value.

The days presentation was brought to a fitting end by Ian Webber-Rostron from the N Brown Group with his aptly named presentation The Changing Role of Contact Centres Within Our Organisations. He asked the probing questions; What role does our contact centre really play in the turbulent and changing world of online retail? And how far should we really go to delight our customers with their contact centre experiences? He answered these questions by demonstrating that by restating and redefining their purpose, really listening to customers and colleagues, reliving the customer’s journey and focusing on relationships, they developed a new and sustainable customer strategy which resulted in their Engage award for ‘Best use of Innovation in Customer Engagement.’

We couldn’t have asked for a better closing presentation as he enthusiastically defined and celebrated the continuing value of the contact centre and that by continual and consistent innovation it is in rude health and will live to a ripe old age.